Once you have a baby, no resource becomes more valuable than sleep. Sleep is the Holy Grail and you are Indiana Jones, willing to go to the extreme to get there. And there is a lot of sleep advice to help you find that golden chalice. But as you begin your journey toward sleep, keep in mind these 10 pitfalls.
This might work for older kids and teenagers, but the idea that putting your baby to bed later will make them sleep later is just a myth. It’s hard to mess with a baby’s internal clock. Sleep experts suggest, trying to notice when your baby is giving off-sleep cues (rubbing his eyes, yawning), then putting him to bed half an hour before he gets tired. This will help your baby get the sleep he needs. And as one book told me (I’m too tired to remember which one), for babies: Sleep begets sleep.
I don’t want to be dogmatic here: If you don’t want to let your baby cry it out, then don’t. Harvard doesn’t have a checkbox for which kids had to cry it out and which ones didn’t. But crying it out doesn’t have to be a harmful, painful thing for children. The studies that show crying it out is bad are the same studies that document parents letting their children cry to the point of distress. In our house, we prefer to call it “fuss it out.” When a baby starts crying, we set the timer for about 10 minutes. Usually the baby will fall back to sleep. If she doesn’t, then we go get her. Most babies fuss or make noise in their sleep. Learning to judge when your baby is going to fall back to sleep and when they need food or cuddles is hard, but you will get there. And if they have to cry for a bit, it’s OK too. Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable with doing that, it’s fine too. You do you. Your baby will turn out just fine.
My second baby, who I love and adore, is a crap sleeper. When he was 6 months old, I asked the doctor if I should try cereal to help him sleep and she laughed, “That’s a myth.” Turns out, she’s right. While a nice full baby does sleep longer, no study has actually proven that giving a newborn cereal actually helps them sleep. And most doctors don’t recommend rushing cereal. Just do your best to stuff your baby full with the breast milk or formula during the day. Of course, even that is no guarantee.
Excuse me while I laugh and cry at the same time. Look, sure, there are some things you can do to help your baby sleep—a good schedule, learning sleep cues, swaddling—but at some point, there is nothing you can do to make your baby sleep. My first baby was a great sleeper. My husband and I felt like this was because we were amazing parents. My second baby, as I wrote before, was a crap sleeper. Nothing helped him—we had a good bedtime routine, we watched his cues, made sure he wasn’t hungry, gave him white noise and a little lovie—but in the end, he finally slept when he wanted to. And when he wanted to was at 13 months old.
I don’t know where people come up with these arbitrary rules that make parents feel like crap. I’ve heard that all babies should sleep through the night by the time they weigh 10 pounds, or are 6 months old. But it is all bunk. There is no science behind it. Look, sure, babies can sleep through the night then. But they might not.
This seems like a contradiction of tip no. 4, but hang in there with me. There are some things you can do. There is a lot of good advice out there about making the room dark, developing routines, lovies, swaddling, crying it out and the Ferber method. So, there are things you can do and things that will work. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to buy the Soothe and Glow Seahorse from Fisher Price. It really helped my son learn how to settle down at night. But in the end, you aren’t in control. A baby is going to baby.
People approach parenting like religion, assuming there is only one way to raise their kids. But in reality, there are multiple paths to sleeping bliss. There are no one-size-fits-all sleep solutions. And heck, you may even think some of these myths are fact. Do what you need to do. The most important thing is that you find out what works for you and your baby. Do what you are comfortable with. Remember, sleep is important, so get it any way you can. By the time they go to college, they’ll all be sleeping. I hope.
This is one of those tips that works for toddlers and grade schoolers, but for babies, it is garbage. If you get a baby overtired, it can make it harder for them to go to sleep. It might seem counter-intuitive, but if your baby won’t go down at night, try putting her to bed earlier. And overtired baby is an unreasonable baby.
Over the course of the first year, babies do give up naps and consolidate their sleep in to bigger chunks. But it’s not advisable to keep a baby up just because they might sleep longer at night. Good sleep during the day means good sleep at night. Overtired babies don’t go down easily at all.
I’ve found that people who reject schedules aren’t really rejecting schedules. They are just rejecting the idea that life happens the same way every day. And they are right, life doesn’t happen the same way every day. Especially if you have older children and, you know, a life. But your baby needs patterns they can rely on. So, whether those happen by the clock or by your intuition, recognizing the patterns of your life, can help you anticipate your baby’s sleep a little better.
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